Four University of Birmingham scientists are among more than 100 experts who have signed a letter published in The Lancet accusing the UK government of conducting a ‘dangerous and unethical experiment’ and urging it to reconsider its plans to abandon all COVID-19 restrictions.
The doctors and scientists, including Professors Alan McNally, KK Cheng, Alice Roberts and Joanna Parish at the University of Birmingham, claim the government’s strategy of mass infection when only half the UK population is fully vaccinated will entail “both acute and long-term illness”. The letter states that any strategy that “tolerates high levels of infection is both unethical and illogical”.
The signatories, which also include the former Chief Scientific Adviser and Chair of Independent SAGE Sir David King, and the Chair of Council for the British Medical Association Dr Chaand Nagpaul, call upon the government to rethink ending restrictions on 19 July describing such a step as “dangerous and premature”.
The letter, co-authored by the University of Birmingham’s Professor Alice Roberts, highlights in particular the risk of long Covid to the wider population; in particular those who are vulnerable and younger people and children, who are currently unvaccinated. The letter notes that the exponential growth of the virus “will likely continue until millions more are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands with long-term illness and disability”.
It continues: “This strategy risks creating a generation left with chronic health problems and disability, the personal and economic impacts of which might be felt for decades to come.”
The letter also draws attention to the global risk from creating a “fertile ground” for vaccine-resistant variants.
The letter also says that the lifting of restrictions on 19 July makes the disruption of children’s education more not less likely. It claims allowing transmission to continue over the summer will create ‘a reservoir of infection’ which will accelerate when schools reopen in the autumn.
Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, said: “Contrary to the statements of government scientists, there is no scientific consensus over the government’s current plans to remove protective mandates on July 19. Instead, there is deep disagreement. Many scientists are sincerely concerned that with sub-optimal double-vaccination numbers and rapidly rising transmission rates, we are at a very dangerous moment in the pandemic.
“Removing mandates on July 19 will not only accelerate virus transmission, with substantial increased levels of acute illness, hospitalisation, and long COVID, but also create the conditions for the emergence of new variants that could escape vaccine protection. The government plan is not, as some have characterised it, a reasonable gamble—it is an entirely unnecessary and self-inflicted hazard that will cause real harm to health.”
Meanwhile, an emergency summit and press conference is being held July 8 2021 with speakers including some of the authors of the letter. A number of MPs will also be attending the summit at which they will respond to the letter, including Caroline Lucas (Green) MP for Brighton Pavilion, Dr Philippa Whitford (SNP) MP for Central Ayrshire, and Debbie Abrahams (Labour) MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth who sits on the All Party Parliamentary Group for Coronavirus.